‘Extravagant’ Ancient Roman ‘Theatrical’ Winery For The Elite Revealed
Wine Grapes
Photo by ANDRES LARROVERE/AFP via Getty Images

A luxurious 1,800-year-old winery that once had fountains flowing with wine was discovered near Rome — and it wasn’t just for winemaking, according to a study released Monday in the journal Antiquity.

The opulent winery dates back to the mid-third century and was made to give the Roman elite a theatrical experience of watching the winemaking process. Researchers say the “degree of luxury” displayed at the winery is a rarity for an ancient production area. The site is located at the Villa of the Quintilii, which is located southeast of Rome on the ancient Appian Way and is open to the public. Excavations of the winery began in 2017, prompting further archeological investigation and analysis of the site.

“Agricultural labor was romanticized by the ruling classes of many ancient cultures, especially as it was often the source of both their wealth and status,” Dr. Emlyn Dodd, lead author of the study, said. “The excavations at the Villa of the Quintilii reveal to us how ancient Roman elites reimagined the annual vintage as a ‘theatrical’ performance, prioritizing the experience of those observing over the practical needs of the workers.”

The winery has two presses, a vat for the collection of grape must, a marble grape-treading area, channels that connect to storage jars, and a wine cellar, according to the study. While treading areas are typically made from waterproof concrete, these were at least partially made up of red marble — a material that Dodd notes is not ideal for winemaking, but shows the builders were “prioritizing the extravagant nature of the winery over practical considerations.”

After the grapes were crushed at the treading area, they would be put into the two mechanical presses, then the grape must would flow into three fountains, according to The Guardian. While bright grape must flowed through these, two additional fountains flowed with water, the study notes.

“It would have been a real spectacle for those watching, the combination of fountains of wine and water, luxurious materials – especially the thin white marble channels through which the wine could be seen flowing – and the sounds of the workers and music would have resulted in a theatrical show,” Dodd said.


After flowing through the fountains, the grape must would end up in storage jars in the ground. The storage jars would be set into the ground to aid in the fermentation process by creating a stable microenvironment, the study notes.

Researchers believe the emperor may have made the trip to the villa yearly to see the vintage. The winery at Quintilii is only the second known winery of its magnitude, according to the study. The other is located at Villa Magna, 30 miles southeast. Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote letters confirming he attended banquets where winemaking occurred, and these likely would have taken place at Magna.

Dodd says that Emperor Gordian III, who ruled from 238-244, might have made the annual outing for the vintage. There is also evidence Gordian might have either built or expanded the facility, as his name is imprinted on one of the collection vats.

“Wine was a huge source of wealth for the Roman elite. They owned vast amounts of land dedicated to viniculture, winemaking, and they were selling it all across the Mediterranean,” Dodd told NBC.

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